checking

How do I: Choose a checking account?

Topic: CHECKING & SAVINGS
Who is affected: Consumers at every life stage
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy
What you'll need: INITIAL DEPOSIT, BANKING HISTORY, PLANS FOR USE

What you need to know

Customers looking for a checking account can find many tailored to differing needs. While banks may try to sell you on a particular account by offering goodies such as iPods and gas cards, don't be fooled.

Here are the questions you should ask before picking an account:

  1. How often do I write checks? Do you use checks to pay a few monthly bills or for most of your purchases? Some accounts have per-month limits on check writing that can add up to big fees.
  2. How big will my balance be? Many accounts have "maintenance fees" if you dip below a certain balance. If you are likely to keep a high balance, you may want to look at accounts that pay interest.
  3. Do I want a debit/check card? If you want a debit card, be sure it comes with as few fees as possible.
  4. Do I want access to a brick-and-mortar branch? Some consumers like a personal touch that comes from a real teller. Others like to do their banking online or by phone. If you're one of the former, avoid Internet banks and accounts that charge fees if you exceed a fixed limit of monthly teller visits.
Step-by-step
Take a look at this chart to find where you fit on the checking account continuum. Some accounts may combine different aspects of each of these:
Setting up direct deposit of your paychecks into a checking account can have a host of benefits. Not only do you get access to your money sooner and avoid the payday bank rush, but many banks offer special perks to direct deposit customers, including free automatic bill pay and reduced fees.

 

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